Ferries and underground railways!! … But why?

Yet again we have public figures extolling the virtues of technology over service in public transport.

Underground railways

Jeff Kennett thinks underground railways are the panacea:

“If I was able to wave a magic wand even now, I would start the planning for an underground rail system,” he told the Australian Property Institute Pan Pacific Congress in Melbourne on Tuesday.

“It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but I can assure you when you look back in 50 years, or 100 years, whatever you pay today would seem cheap.

“We can hardly accommodate the traffic on the surface of our community in an efficient way and it is only going to get worse.”

AAP: Underground rail would be magic: Kennett

It’s great that the bloke behind Citylink (the inner-urban motorway that was meant to fix Melbourne’s traffic — but didn’t) now understands that to move people more efficiently around big cities, you can’t do it with cars.

But without knowing exactly what else he said, he seems to not have realised that the (mostly European) cities that have underground railways have them because the city developed before the railways came.

In Australia it’s the opposite — the railways were built as the cities developed, so naturally the railways are at ground level because that’s the cheapest option.

The proposed Melbourne Metro tunnel is only a tunnel because now the inner-city is built-up, and if you’re going to do expansion of track capacity and serve the hospital precinct and St Kilda Road with heavy rail, it’s got to be underground.

The benefits of European rapid transit/metro systems aren’t because they’re underground (many aren’t outside city centres). The benefits are from having high-capacity, high-frequency services meaning large numbers of people can move quickly with minimal waiting, at any time of day, providing the sort of freedom of mobility the motor car can offer (better, in fact, given traffic levels in most cities).

This can be done with Australian suburban railways, by simply running more frequent trains all day every day, along with level crossing removal, and better connecting feeder buses to make more trips viable without a car.

Ferries

Proposed Melbourne ferry mapMeanwhile, Melbourne Lord Mayoral candidate Robert Doyle is pushing ferries:

At the launch of “Team Doyle” this morning on the banks of the Yarra River, lord mayoral candidate Mr Doyle said the ferry trial would cost about $500,000, would run five times a day and take about thirty minutes to sail between three stops.

Mr Doyle said existing water taxis and ferry services mainly operated on weekends and the new service would help workers who want to travel around Docklands.

The Age: Doyle pledges free Docklands ferry

Five times a day? You’re kidding me.

Aimed at workers? What Docklands workers are going to wait 1-2 hours for a ferry, which will take 30 minutes to cover a distance they could walk in 17 minutes?

Tourists would probably like it, but for workers/commuters, how does this solve anything, except perhaps for a struggling ferry operator who would appreciate $500,000 a year in revenue?

Sorry Robert, but unless vital information is missing, this idea makes no sense at all.

It’s not about infrastructure

When will our leaders figure out that better public transport is not about digging tunnels or exploring new modes such as ferries? It’s about dependable, well-connected, capacious, safe, fast, frequent services.

If a ferry or an underground railway or a maglev or a monorail is being proposed, the first question should be: does it cost-effectively deliver on the basic requirements of good public transport and improve mobility? And is it better/cheaper/quicker than upgrading what we already have now?

Baillieu and the Clearways

Seems the more cynical (especially on the left) are panicking about the new Coalition government in Victoria, including with regard to public transport — trams in particular.

Remember Kennett!

Well no, hold on. Baillieu is not Kennett, this is not 1992, and the economy is not stuffed. There is no mandate nor need to drastically cut government debt, nor cut government spending.

And unlike any time in the last few decades, public transport patronage is increasing, there is public demand for investment, and there is not even the scope nor opportunity for Kennett-style work reforms (such as the mass removal of staff). On the contrary, the Coalition has come in pledging 940 security officers for stations, as well as 40 more trains, and feasibility studies for four new rail lines (Doncaster, Rowville, Tullamarine and Avalon).

Removal of Clearways is anti-tram!

First of all, no Clearways are being removed. Rather, the hours they apply is being rolled back to how they were a couple of years ago. Under Brumby these crept into off-peak business hours, up to 10am in the mornings, and from 3:30pm in the afternoons.

Secondly, there are questionmarks over whether the benefits of Clearways is compelling against the pain suffered by shopping strips — not just removal of parking, but general poor amenity — window shopping and al fresco dining are not very pleasant with cars zooming by at 60 km/h. Parked cars provide a buffer.

Shops on Centre Road, Bentleigh

In strip shopping centres with no clearways, such as Centre Road (where widened footpaths physically prevent it) there is activity on the street as early as 8am, with cafe patrons sipping coffees and eating breakfast.

The obvious question must be: are streets just for traffic, or for everybody?

In any case, opinions differ on how much travel time is saved with Clearways. Some tram drivers say there’s a noticeable difference. But the only hard figures that have come out are that on High Street there is saving 5% time for trams, and 9% for cars. So it benefits motorists more than tram passengers. And for trams, that adds up to just 36 seconds along the affected section. (It’s not even clear if this applies to the peak of the peak, or the 9am-10am and 3:30pm-4:30pm periods now rolled-back, when traffic is much lighter. It’s also not clear if it’s in the AM peak direction, which includes a tram-only lane, or in the PM peak direction as well, which has no tram lane.)

Tram on Sydney Road, Brunswick

On Sydney Road, where the Clearway is not accompanied by a tram-only lane, a study indicated the time difference for trams was next to nothing: just 7 seconds — with adjoining section along Royal Parade actually being slower, despite it having a dedicated tram lane.

This reflects the fact that most of the delays are at traffic lights; in fact Yarra Trams figures indicate delays at traffic lights account for 17% of travel time across the tram network, much higher than in many other tram cities — including those similar to Melbourne, with older networks running in mixed traffic.

Traffic light priority, if done well, could be highly beneficial to tram users, but barely noticeable to most other people.

Other solutions (particularly relevant for the south end of Sydney Road) would include traffic metering, to reduce the number of cars able to enter the street ahead of the trams (which could easily be carrying 150 cars-worth of passengers), and subtly encourage (but not force) motorists onto other (non-tram) roads.

Don’t panic

The Coalition said little about trams (or buses) during the election campaign. Neither did Labor. Let’s face it, trains get most of the publicity. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic just yet.

Of course, they’ll probably need some nudging, particularly with regards to issues like traffic light priority for trams.